Being in a culture where I did not speak the language was exhausting. It was mentally draining, physically tense, and emotionally depleting. Try as I could, it did not and would not come easy to me. I would tell my tutor that I was sure Tree (less than 2 at the time) was going to answer her questions before I did. I was only half-joking. The truth was, he was learning two languages at once and took delight when he said a German word and all the German-speakers around us would react with total joy. They did not react that way when I spoke the language. I tired of being laughed at or given blank stares--both common reactions. It has long been my belief that if you live in another lingual setting it is your duty to make and effort to communicate in the common language. But after a year of struggle, I now have an entirely new empathy for those who do not speak a country's native language.
It is hard. Very hard.
Simple things, like going to the grocery store, became things that I dreaded. My little neighbourhood store had no English speakers. To make it more challenging, you had to ask for anything that was fresh--vegetables, meat, cheese. No just picking your own. My first attempt at getting leaf lettuce (Kräutersalat) was met with giggles from the girl getting the vegetables. She repeated how to say it correctly. I tried. More giggles. That rolling/hard r sound is impossible for me. We repeated this scene for weeks before the day she threw her hands up and said "you got it right" (in English because she practiced with me after a while). Those first attempts were demoralising. To be laughed at week in and week out just to get lettuce.
These are just easy examples of language difficulty outside native country. I got to the point that I just didn't want to try to communicate anything when I was at home. I was exhausted. I just wanted to allow my mind to veg. So I stopped writing much of anything.
This may sound like it is specific to living outside our home country, but I think it can generalize. Sometimes, we stop communicating because the day-to-day communication is in a foreign language that exhausts us. This world, this culture, is counter to our identity as children of God (more on this in a post to come). We can spend the day trying to navigate a world between our sacred heart language and the world we live in. We can become exhausted trying to navigate the negative and pessimistic culture around us. We can get to the point that we just don't want to have to speak if not absolutely necessary.
You may recognise this. You spend your day navigating the murky waters of a work place where ambition is more highly regarded than integrity. You say the politically correct thing to stay afloat even when it doesn't come naturally. Nodding and smiling takes the place of speaking your heart. Then you come home and don't have the mental energy to switch gears and speak the sacred. So you think you will do it tomorrow. Or, if you are a student, you walk the path of choosing words that are true and what the professor wants to hear, but may not be your deepest truth. Then, when it comes time to speak or write of your inmost thoughts, there is no energy left to summon it. We can lose our words as we navigate the foreign language of the world.
I know that I must find ways to protect my energy, so that I still have the perseverence to speak my heart's language when so many around me do not want to hear or do not understand that language. Becoming bi-lingual is a must or I become too exhausted to speak. But, how?
I was struck this week, again, as I read the words of Mark 1:35,
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Jesus was navigating a "foreign" world with a "foreign" language. He was away from the perfection of his world. How did he cope? He got by himself and he prayed. He found a place to speak his heart language. He didn't lose touch with who he was whilst he did the things he was called to do.
I wonder, if that is the key for me to not lose my voice in a foreign world? It is true, that quiet time and concentrated prayer times are often among the first things to go when I am overwhelmed with life. That just adds to the spiral of being more and more overwhelmed. If I am to navigate in a world that speaks a different language than my heart, I must find places and time to speak my heart language. I must find the time to pray and stay in the word. I must also find time to speak with those who speak the same language. Otherwise my speech skills become rusty and I become discouraged, at best, or apathetic at worst. Even this die-hard introvert needs people! I need people to come along, encourage, commiserate and hold to account. And, I need to be that for others.
My friends, if you are losing your voice, if you find you don't have the energy to say another word of anything important, please take some time and reconnect. Reconnect with God and with others who can speak to the things of God. Reconnect with your heart-language. Reconnect with me. I need you. I need your words, and I am certain others do as well.
photos from www.morguefile.com